You can tell that I've been on an Anthony Berkeley binge lately, can't you? My choice for today's Forgotten Book is a novel he wrote in 1933, which I read years ago and have now enjoyed again a second time around. Unfortunately, the plot of Jumping Jenny - which has one feature that I think is quite unique in the genre- is such that I don't want to say too much about it, for fear of saying too much. Suffice to say that there is a great twist in the very last line.
But there is plenty to enjoy in the story, that's for sure. I liked the opening lines a lot - they tell you so much about Berkeley's style that I'd like to quote them:
" From the triple gallows three figures swung lazily, one woman and two men.
Only a gentle creaking of their ropes sounded in the quiet night. A horn lantern, perched above the triangle of the crosspieces, swayed in the slight wind, causing the three shadows to leap and prance on the ground in a grotesque dance of death, like some macabre travesty of a slow-motion film in silhouette.
'Very nice,' said Roger Sheringham.
'It is rather charming, isn't it?' agreed his host."
The oddest feature of the story, by far, is the attitude taken to women in general terms - the victim is a truly awful person, although I should add that there are also sympathetic female characters. But Berkeley clearly had 'issues' with women. Perhaps that's why both of his marriages broke down. Then again, in his defence, there is plenty of evidence that he remained on very good terms with both his ex-wives. A complicated man, for sure. But a very entertaining writer, and this is a book well worth reading. In the US, it is known as Dead Mrs Stratton.
Friday, 30 September 2011
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
I was delighted to read a very generous blog post in The Guardian yesterday about The Hanging Wood. Here's a link to David Ward's piece
As David Ward says, the Theatre by the Lake features more prominently in the synopsis for the next instalment of the Lake District Mysteries than in The Hanging Wood. It's an excellent place, and deserves every support.
During my recent holiday in the Med, one port of call that was just possibly my favourite was the island of Rhodes. I'd never been there before, and knew little about it other than that the long vanished Colossus had been a wonder of the ancient world. What I found was a place that combined beauty with history and character in abundance.
The trip also reminded me of an Agatha Christie story, 'Triangle at Rhodes', which appears in Murder in the Mews, and which bears a strong resemblance to the plots of two of her later novels. It's a very good story, but on re-reading it, I was a little surprised that Christie said so little about the island on which she set it.
I suppose this is one of the characteristics of her work - its universality means that there isn't much scope for specific detail. I first read the story when I was about 9 or 10, and had never travelled to London, let alone overseas. It wasn't until much later that I became interested in seeing the world. So the absence of background colour didn't bother me. But now it seems a bit like a missed opportunity.
The short story I plan to write set on Santorini won't be a travelogue, but I will hope to include some feel for the place that inspired me to write it. And who knows, one of these days I might write something set on Rhodes too. I've certainly made some notes as well as taking loads of photos, of which these are just a few!
Monday, 26 September 2011
I'm delighted to say that my story 'Clutter' has been chosen to appear in Best British Mysteries, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, and in the US, in The Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2010, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Ed Gorman.
Meanwhile, Murder Squad's second anthology is due out shortly and I've just received my author copies - and very good the book looks too, in my admittedly biased opinion.
I'm setting out below the official press release. Review copies can be obtained from Ross Britton at firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively on Tel: 01453 732505. I do think that The History Press have done a great job with this book, and I'm hoping that readers will agree.
Best Eaten Cold and Other Stories
A Murder Squad Anthology
Edited by Martin Edwards
To be published 3rd October 2011, £6.99 Paperback Original, 978-0-7524-6300-1
Also available in Ebook
A collection of murderous tales from the countries
premier crime fiction writers
Best Eaten Cold and Other Stories showcases a group of highly regarded, award winning crime writers who all share a special passion for crime, which is reflected in this superb new volume. Funny and sad, atmospheric and dark, ingenious and frightening, each of the thirteen stories in this collection will keep you guessing to the very end. From the creepy undertones of Riviera to the mystery of The Habit of Silence, this Murder Squad anthology has something for crime fiction lovers everywhere.
• Foreword by Barry Forshaw, editor of Crime Time magazine.
• Includes previously unpublished material written especially for this anthology.
• Murder Squad was the first ‘virtual collective’ of British crime writers.
• Includes award winning authors, such as Ann Cleeves, creator of the ITV drama series Vera starring Brenda Blethyn.
MURDER SQUAD are a group of leading crime fiction writers comprising Stuart Pawson, Martin Edwards, Margaret Murphy, Chaz Brenchley, Cath Staincliffe and Ann Cleeves. Murder Squad was set up in 2000 by Margaret Murphy, and since then Ann has won the CWA Gold Dagger, Martin has won the CWA Short Story Dagger, and Ann and Cath have had their books successfully adapted for television. All of them have been published internationally and between them they have published over 80 novels, and over 70 short stories. Martin has edited 20 crime anthologies.
Visit http://bit.ly/rcp39T for a free online sampler of ‘Best Eaten Cold’; including a piece by Martin Edwards on his writing experiences, and 2 extracts from the 13 stories.
Saturday, 24 September 2011
There aren't many sizeable towns in Britain that I haven't visited, but Portsmouth is one of them. It's an omission I shall need to repair in years to come if a new crime event develops further in the future. I've received an interesting news release from Pauline Rowson, and here is a shortened version of it.
"Portsmouth BookFest has scoured a coup by securing the appearances at the 2011 CSI Portsmouth event of four internationally acclaimed crime authors: Mark Billingham, John Harvey, Michael Ridpath and Pauline Rowson who will join experts from the Crime Scene Investigation team and Fingerprinting Bureau of Hampshire Constabulary and experts from the International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology to discuss crime fiction and fact in a lively panel debate at John Pounds Community Centre, Portsmouth on Saturday 5 November.
Last year’s inaugural event attracted an audience of over two hundred people and it is anticipated that a packed programme this year with a line up of top crime authors and experts will see numbers increase.
The morning programme will comprise of talks featuring experts in Victorian Crime, Fingerprinting, forensic psychology and a talk by former Detective Superintendent Bob Bridgestock who will be telling audiences how he has used his experience of twenty-six murder investigations, and countless investigations to shape his crime novels featuring Jack Dylan, written in partnership with his wife Carol, who also worked with the police as a support worker for seventeen years.
There will be a chance for delegates to see how the fingerprinting bureau works and have their fingerprints taken, as well as talk to the crime authors to find out how they come up with their intricate plots and research their novels.
CSI Portsmouth 2011 is being held on Saturday 5 November at John Pounds Community Centre. Tickets cost £5 for the morning and £7 for the afternoon with a discounted ticket of £10 for the day and discounts for Portsmouth library members. It also includes £3 off the price of a book bought at the event. Tickets are on sale from 12 September from the Box Office on 023 9268 8685.
For more details on CSI Portsmouth 2011 visit http://www.rowmark.co.uk/csi_portsmouth_bookfest.php
And for the Portsmouth BookFest visit www.portsmouthbookfest.co.uk. "
Friday, 23 September 2011
It is rare for two crime writers who have established significant personal reputations to collaborate on a novel. But there are some notable examples, and one of them is my choice for today's Forgotten Book, Fatal Descent. The authors were an Englishman and an American who became good friends through their membership of the Detection Club. The Englishman was John Rhode, and American John Dickson Carr, here writing under his alternative pen-name of Carter Dickson.
The story is set in the offices of a publishing magnate, who is duly found dead in his own personal elevator – which nobody else was allowed to travel in. But no weapon can be found, although the skylight of the elevator has been damaged, and there is no doubt either that he has been shot to death or that it is a case of murder and suicide.
As you might expect from these two authors, it is a classic "impossible crime" situation, and I thought that the solution was highly ingenious, although it depended upon so much mechanical cleverness that there was no chance that I would ever have guessed how it was done. Once you knew how, you knew who, and I was not convinced that the authors played entirely fair with regard to the question of motive, giving no real details of what drove the killer before the final explanation.
A very similar setting was used by Kenneth Fearing in that wonderful novel, later wonderfully filmed, The Big Clock. But in Fatal Descent, the authors make no attempt to exploit the setting for its atmospheric potential. The impossible crime mystery is everything. And, much as I like sealed room mysteries, this sealed elevator mystery has to rank as a missed opportunity. It’s not really surprising that Rhode and Carr never wrote a joint novel again.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Well, you didn't think that you'd get away with just one set of my holiday snaps, did you?! These photographs were all taken on a memorable visit to Santorini, a Greek island as fascinating as it is beautiful. In fact, I liked it so much that I was immediately inspired to think up a story set on Santorini.
I suppose that most sensible travellers research their destinations in depth before they set off. However, I must admit that I didn't know anything about Santorini before I arrived there. This was partly because I hadn't had much time prior to the cruise to think about it in any detail – but it was also partly because one of the joys of cruising, at least to me, is that of arriving in fresh and unknown places morning after morning and then discovering them at close quarters. You only have time to get a brief flavour of the place, but of course, if you like it enough, you can always go back at a later date for an extended visit.
Suffice to say that I'm keen to return to Santorini one of these days. Mind you, next time, I may take the cable car to the top of the cliff where the main town of the island is located, rather than flogging up the 600 steps which wind to the top. I did the walk both ways which gave me a rare sense of virtue, and managed to avoid being crushed to death by the masses of donkeys that carry nervous passengers up the same path. Anyway, the walk was worth it, both for the breathtaking views and for the delightful nature of the town. I thought it was a fantastic place.
Santorini was created by a volcanic eruption, and the town was destroyed less than 60 years ago by an earthquake. The geology is part of the fascination of the place, and it has influenced the theme of my story – which is provisionally entitled "Fault Line".
Tuesday, 20 September 2011
I'm back from a wonderful cruise in the Eastern Mediterranean, and acclimatising to a drop in temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius, but I think I should apologise for not being able to post any of your comments, let alone reply to them, while I was away. I did have limited access to the internet, but Blogger refused to allow me any access to this blog. Since returning, I've had to change my password and the Blogger site leads me to believe their service is now being revamped and improved. We'll see.
Apart from visiting many marvellous places, and eating too much food, I also read five crime novels and watched a couple of films that will provide material for future blog posts. And I started a short story inspired by one of our ports of call, the amazing island Santorini.
The photos, by the way, indicate sunsets over the bay at Rhodes, the Aegean Sea, the bay of Naples. And there's a shot of the windmills at Mykonos, another overlooking the blue grotto at Capri as well as one of one ancient ruin visiting another ancient ruin at Ephesus.
Monday, 19 September 2011
It must be 25 years or more since I first came across the crime fiction of Simon Brett. I enjoyed a number of his very witty novels about the actor and amateur detective Charles Paris before moving on to his second string sleuth, Mrs Pargeter. More recently, he has enjoyed good deal of success with his Fethering novels.
But this very prolific writer has, quite apart from his work for radio and television and some non-fiction, which includes an admirable anthology of parodies, also written successful stand-alone novels of psychological suspense. Not long ago, I posted a review of A Shock to the System, the film based on one of those books, and I can also recommend Dead Romantic, one of his strongest novels.
He is as witty and urbane in person as in print, and many years ago, I heard him give a highly entertaining talk at a writers' festival. I have to confess that I was too shy to introduce myself as a fan, but it did give me great pleasure to meet him at last some time later. More recently, I was quite thrilled to receive a letter from him, out of the blue, telling me I'd been elected to membership of the Detection Club, of which he is President.
A couple of times, I've had the happy experience of including Simon Brett stories in anthologies that I've edited - most recently, a new Charles Paris story for Original Sins. He is a first rate short story writer, and his collected crime stories, in a couple of volumes, are definitely worth seeking out. As the title of one of hose books, A Box of Tricks, implies, he is very good on plot and twists, but he is also keen to keep trying something new - he's even written crime fiction in verse. I saw Simon fleetingly at the recent Crimefest, and here's a photo of the two of us during the CWA Dagger shortlist event. My thanks, as ever, to Ali Karim, for allowing me to reproduce it.
Friday, 16 September 2011
Another Anthony Berkeley for today's Forgotten Book! And this one is an absolute classic - Trial and Error, first published in 1937, and reissued by Penguin a decade later with an introduction in which Berkeley defends his plot twist which depends upon a private prosecution for murder.
This is, from the opening scene to the twist in the final sentence, a joy to read. It blends humour and mystery with a deep cynicism about justice, politicians, and newspapers. Could have been written yesterday, then!
The set-up is brilliant. Mr Todhunter is terminally ill, so he decides to do the world a kindness by murdering someone who is truly appalling. He carries out his plan, only to find that an innocent person is charged and convicted. When Todhunter confesses, nobody believes him. So he has to prove his guilt - but it turns out to be very tricky to do so. he turns to Ambrose Chitterwick, one of Berkeley's series sleuths, for help.
Berkeley was here at the very top of his form, producing plot twist after plot twist with seemingly effortless skill. Yet within a couple of years, he had given up novel writng for good. He was a real loss to the genre. Some may argue that he was a writer of his time,but I think there's something very contemporary about his best work, which makes it timeless. In my opinion, he wrote four outstanding books, plus some other good ones. This is one of the top four, no question.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
The Secret in Their Eyes is a film from Argentina which won the Oscar in 2009 for Best Foreign Language Film. However, I must admit that I was unaware of it until it cropped up on the satellite movie schedule. A glowing description prompted me to give it a try – and I was really glad that I did.
The story is set partly in the past and partly in the present. In the present, a retired cop has a call on a woman judge he used to work with. He explains that he has turned into a novel his recollections of a case that obsessed him, and which clearly had an impact on his relationship with the (very attractive) judge.
We revisit the past to find out about the cold case. A young married woman was brutally raped and murdered. The cop was fascinated by the fact that her husband, a quiet bank clerk, was so utterly devoted to her. He becomes determined to track down the killer and, assisted by an alcoholic colleague, he does just that. But it is impossible to secure a conviction, and after his colleague is murdered, the cop relocates for his own safety, and in the process loses touch with the woman he loves.
This is a film about the fine line between passion and obsession. The consequences of obsession, it is clear from the story, can be hugely destructive. But with passion, the message seems to be – seize the moment. It is a powerful drama, with a compelling late twist which involves the husband of the murdered woman in a very unexpected way. I can well understand why this film won an Oscar, and it certainly is well worth watching.
Monday, 12 September 2011
Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan, is unquestionably a film that needs to be seen more than once. Even if you figure out what is going on in good time during the first viewing (and I have to admit that I didn't), it is a film that really does repay careful study.
The idea – based on a short story written by Jonathan Nolan, the director's brother – is fascinating. There are two contrasting sequences – a chronological sequence of events, shown in black and white, and a reverse sequence, showing colour. This effect is confusing and unsettling, but also intriguing.
Guy Pearce plays the part of Leonard, a young insurance investigator, who is determined to avenge the death of his wife, who was raped and murdered by one or more intruders. During the attack, he was hit on the head, and as a result, he loses his short-term memory. To keep his investigation on track, he has vital clues tattooed on his body, takes Polaroid photographs of various people and places, and makes notes on the wall chart that he keeps in his motel room.
Leonard is, to say the least, an unreliable narrator. As a result of his unreliability, it isn't easy to get a handle on exactly what has happened. But it is definitely worth making the effort. This is a very interesting film by one of the most interesting contemporary film directors.
Friday, 9 September 2011
My choice for today's Forgotten Book is another entry in the impressive new series of classic crime novels published by Arcturus. This one is called Blueprint for Murder, and the author is Roger Bax. If the name of Roger Bax is unfamiliar to you, you might be familiar with the work of Andrew Garve. Both were among the pseudonyms used by the journalist and prolific author Paul Winterton, but it is as Garve that he carved out a considerable reputation.
I had never previously read any of the books he wrote as Roger Bax, but even if I had not known the identity of the author before reading the book, I might have guessed it because of the focus on small boat sailing – clearly this was one of Winterton's great passions.
The book changes character in its last quarter. It starts out as an "inverted" crime novel, tracing how a man made ruthless by his wartime experiences sets out to kill a wealthy benefactor, contriving an ingenious alibi so as to escape justice. But his plan has some rather obvious flaws, and after it falls apart, but the book is in the form of an adventure thriller as he tries to flee across the Channel.
The book is set in the immediate post-war period, and the horrors of the concentration camp that so corrupted the villain are conveyed tersely but well. This is a readable and entertaining story, and although the outcome is only foreseeable, I enjoyed it from start to finish. Had it not been reissued, I'm sure I would never come across it, and Arcturus are to be congratulated for publishing a novel that, although hardly well-known, deserves a new lease of life as a lively period piece.
Thursday, 8 September 2011
It's more than a year since I had a full week off on holiday, so suffice to say, I'm more than ready for a decent trip away. Mind you, in the past twelve months, I have had quite a number of hugely enjoyable long week-ends, as well as four nights in Rome, so I'm not complaining.
However, the chance to recharge my batteries at greater length is something I've been looking forward to and I hope to make the most of it - and do plenty of reading too! I have scheduled in advance regular blog posts as usual, but as I shall not have regular access to the internet over the next ten days, please forgive me if I'm slow in publishing or responding to any comments.
And I'll soon be back, duly refreshed and - I hope! - in the right frame of mind to get going with my next novel...
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
Key Largo is a classic black and white thriller, set on one of the Florida Keys during the hurricane season. The cast is outstanding, with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. I enjoyed it.
The story is straightforward. Bogey drops in at a hotel on Key Largo, to see the owner and his daughter, having fought alongside the owner's late son during the war. It's apparent that Bogey was a war hero, but he gives the impression that his colleague, Temple, was the heroic one. And this idea of heroiosm is a key element in the story. At some points, Bogey's character appears weak and irresolute. But the viewer is always optimistic that he will in the end assert himself - and that's a tribute to the iconic actor's powerful character.
A supposed fishing party, whose members are rather disagreeable, is staying at the hotel. It turns out that they are a gang of crooks, led by Johnny Rocco - played by Edward G. Robinson. The battle of wills between Robinson and Bogart is as compelling as the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart.
A word for Claire Trevor, who plays a drunken former nightclub singer. She puts in a very good performance, and plays a crucial part in the story-line. The story is sound, but it's the acting, and the powerful personalities of the actors, that make this movie memorable.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
When Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, by John Curran, was published, I felt that it was the most fascinating book about the genre that I had read for a long time. The notebooks that John Curran has so painstakingly transcribed give a fascinating insight into the thought processes of the most successful crime writer of all time.
So when John invited me to attend the launch in Dublin of his follow-up volume, Agatha Christie's Murder in the Making, I seized the chance to combine the get-together with a long weekend in the Irish capital. And it all worked out marvellously well – even the weather was pretty kind.
The launch was held at a prestigious venue, the Civic Offices on the banks of the River Liffey, and was attended by well over 100 people. The following evening saw a private party hosted by friends of John at their house in Clontarf, which was another highly enjoyable event. Amongst the highlights, as the photograph shows, was the production (and consumption!) Of a cake featuring a facsimile of the book. Mathew Prichard, Christie's grandson (and the father of James Prichard, whose Langtail Press I have featured a few times in this blog) was present on both evenings, and there's no doubt that his support of the project has been crucial to the success of John's work, and that it has been absolutely justified by the dedication John has shown.
I'll be reviewing the book shortly, and I'm delighted that its publication gave me the excuse (if one were needed) for a brief but fascinating break. Dublin is a fairly compact city, and we covered a lot of ground in a short time. And, as unexpected bonus, whilst I was there I not only dreamt up a new short story, but got an idea for the title for my next Lake District Mystery.
Sunday, 4 September 2011
Friday, 2 September 2011
It is always a real cause for celebration when the forgotten books of the past are resurrected in new print versions (or as e-books, come to that). Assuming, of course, that they are not books that deserve to be forgotten! In my opinion, Death Walks In Eastrepps most definitely deserves to be remembered. In fact, one critic described it as one of the 10 greatest detective novels of all time. This may be a bit over the top, but nevertheless, it certainly qualifies as a classic.
In a post on this blog almost four years ago, I talked about the book in the context of a discussion on interesting motives for murder, and the motive is certainly distinctive and memorable. But the book as a whole is a lively and entertaining read, and since it is 80 years since its original publication, the time was certainly ripe for its resurrection.
I'm very glad to say, therefore, that a brand-new, attractively produced edition has now become available in an interesting series of Crime Classics from Arcturus Publishing. I'll have more to say about Arcturus in the future, because I do think that their enterprise deserves both praise and encouragement.
Death Walks in Eastrepps is an early example of the serial killer story. In fact, I'd be very interested to hear about any Golden Age detective novels about serial killers that pre-date it – Agatha Christie and Philip MacDonald ventured into this territory a little later, but did anyone get there sooner?
Of course, the story has its unlikely (you might say, exceptionally improbable) aspects. But the atmosphere of the seaside resort terrified by the work of the mysterious multiple murderer is nicely done, and the narrative pace is kept up pretty well.
The author was Francis Beeding, the pseudonym for two writers, Hilary St George Saunders and John Palmer. They wrote a couple of excellent classic detective novels after this one, but later became better known for thrillers. Again, I'd be glad to hear from anyone who has sampled some of their other work.